Simon James - on Homewares, Design and his Newmarket Concept Store

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Opening in Newmarket in September of 2017, Simon James Design has cemented itself into the fabric of Osborne Lane perfectly, offering a boutique shopping experience that seemingly invites you in. Stocking a curated and refined edit of contemporary furnishings, homewares and clothing, the Simon James Design store experience is one that evokes a strong sense of minimalism and practicality. Zara Overton sits down with Simon James to talk about the brand and how it all began…

N. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind Simon James Design. Where did the idea to open your own concept store come from?
I established the brand just over 15 years ago as a vehicle to design, manufacture and sell furniture to both the commercial and residential markets which is still the core part of the business today. Overtime we started to work with a selection of international brands that began to offer accessories as part of their collection. This led to the idea of setting up a store that was more object focused - we liked the idea of offering a diverse range of items that fall under a particular aesthetic which we believed would make an interesting retail experience.

N . Have you always been passionate about design?
Yes, from a young age I’d always been interested in how things were constructed and finished, I’ve always found components just as interesting as the finished product and had a deep appreciation for craftsmanship that lead me in the direction of furniture design.


N. Your Newmarket store, which opened last September is truly beautiful, with the exterior design by Nat Cheshire of Cheshire Architects and the interior fit out by Rufus Knight. Was there a reason behind using two different architects for the interior and exterior of the space?
We have worked with both designers on a number of separate projects and liked the idea of a collaboration between the two with each focusing on one area. Nat came up with the initial solution to create a more open space by installing the large steel window to Osborne Lane which we were drawn to. We then brought Rufus on board for the interior fit-out which started with the brief of wanting to move away from a conventional retail space to something that felt modern, clean and timeless. A space where the products felt a part of the environment and that the aesthetic of the shop complemented the look and feel of the brands and products we choose to carry.

N. You stock a curated selection of designers such as Tom Dixon, Mahsa Label and Jessica McCormack diamonds. What processes do you undertake when deciding which brands to add to your stable?
It’s always a very considered decision as we look at our stores as offering more of an edit. It is normally led by the brands aesthetic and how this would fit in with our stores - we look for items that don’t compete with existing product. We like to work with brands with a long-term exclusive focus as it’s not only about what items will work well now but what they plan to offer in the future. It is about longevity, timelessness and brands that have a strong design focus and share our values.

N. The Simon James Design stores are synonymous with providing an intimate store experience in very calm and tranquil spaces. How important is this physical store experience and customer interaction to you?
It’s very important - retail has gone through a number of challenges in recent years with the further increases in online sales, even though we consider our offering strong online, it’s our bricks and mortar stores we are investing more in. These are very experience focused as we try to create an environment that is immersive but not overwhelming.


N. What is your favourite piece of furniture in your own home?
Currently the Clerici Chair by Konstantin Grcic for Mattiazzi.

N. Do you ever suffer from creative block?  If so, how do you overcome it?
Yes of course, we tend to have a number of projects being developed at different stages so if we are struggling in a particular area we will move onto another and address this at a different time with a clear head.

N. What do you like most about [having a store in] Newmarket?
Newmarket has always been one of the key retail destinations in Auckland, so we had been considering opening a store here for sometime. There are still a number of amazing heritage buildings in Newmarket and we liked the idea of transforming one of these while retaining it’s character, Osborne Lane was the perfect boutique retail precinct for this.

N. What advice would you give to someone who was looking at decorating a room or home?
I would advise building a library of references as a starting point so you get a better idea of what you like and dislike because you have to live in it and it has to feel like a home, then engage an interior architect or designer.

N. In terms of investment, which is the best furniture item to start with?
I think it comes down to materials, both wood and leather are going to age very well over time. A wooden dining table is going to tell a few stories after 10 years and this is the beauty of a natural product, that it can develop character. A leather armchair of sofa shares similar qualities, I feel these items can look better overtime.


N. What are some interior trends that are big right now?
Honesty in materials, texture and a muted palette.

N. It’s 10am on a Sunday morning, where will we find you and what are you doing?
I’ll normally be outdoors running around with the kids or returning from an early morning fish.

N. When designing, who or what inspires you? Why?
Travel plays an important part, I tend to come up with most ideas out of the office and return with a notebook full of sketches, I still find pencil and paper the most fluid way to conceive an idea. We then narrow these down and develop a selection further through computer modeling, 3D printing and 1:1 prototyping before committing to a product.

N.  What’s next for Simon James Design?
To continue to build on the experiences that people have in-store, to share knowledge and give depth to the brands we carry. For us its about engaging with and knowing our clients and being able to provide the very best to them. In terms of projects, there are many product launches and new ventures in the pipeline, from objects to furniture and lighting and continuing our influence in the modern office.


Simon James Design
Corner of Kent St & Osborne Lane